Writing a Strategic Plan for Academic Technologies & Libraries

Our institution is going through a major process of strategic planning, and one on a fairly accelerated timetable. We need to have a complete draft by May and after feedback from the Board and the rest of the academic community, have a plan in place by November. I’m a member of the strategic planning steering committee, the group responsible for directing the process and for writing the final report, as well as being part of some of the discussions of the pieces of the report.

Now, strategic plans are funny things. Done right, they can set aspirational and practical goals for an institution that can drive fund-raising, shape organizational decisions, and determine the investment of key resources. Done wrong, they can create needless animosity, fear, confusion, and leave an institution in worse shape than before the process. But even when done well, the best strategic plan is useless unless the administration and the academic community as a whole relies on it, turns to it, uses it. So, the first question might be, why bother? Why invest time in an enterprise that has such a potential for failure? The answer is that I believe that this effort is a real opportunity for change, a true chance to articulate a vision for the direction of this institution, a remarkable moment in the life of the institution. I, and many of my colleagues, choose to see this as a time to think boldly about the future of the liberal arts university we care so much about.

One area in which I believe bold, visionary thought is both required and possible is in the area of academic technologies and libraries. I see the three key reasons why this area of discussion is particularly important for Mary Washington right now.

  1. Virtually everyone who talks about the future of institutions of higher education sees academic technologies and libraries as critical vehicles (paths, jump-starters, incubators, facilitators — choose your metaphor as you wish) for the growth of colleges and universities.
  2. Academic technologies offer a chance for smaller institutions to compete with much larger schools with much more sizable resource budgets. Also, assuming a basic computing infrastructure is in place, digital tools and technologies also allow for a quick ramp-up time for projects, easier piloting of new ideas, access to significantly larger (and better organized) library and archival collections, and widespread changes to existing systems or practices.
  3. Finally, UMW already has a number of critical resources in place with which we can build, create, and innovate boldly. [UMWblogs is perhaps the best known digital tool, and Faculty Academy may be the best-known event; but by “resources” I really mean a dedicated group of librarians, instructional technology artists, staff, and faculty. It is these genuinely creative, caring, thoughtful, reflective, and revolutionary people who must lead and effect the bold changes for which I’m hoping.]

In the next month, the strategic planning discussion group on Academic Technologies and Libraries needs to come up with 2-3 big goals in this area for the institution with several smaller objectives and a number of specific measurable benchmarks that would reflect progress toward those goals and objectives.

So, help me and UMW to think boldly about these critical components of a successful institution. What would be on your top list of goals for a small (~4,000 undergraduates, ~1,000 graduate and professional students) institution of higher learning? What are the necessary digital and/or library components of an liberal arts university of the 21st century? What could we do to be a leader among our peers in the fields of academic technology, library services and information resources?

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  1. I think the resource people you mention should have research agendas. This will help them and the students and faculty they serve to stay at the cutting edge of technology, teaching, service, and scholarship.

  2. I’m thinking more about what I’d suggest as goals (good food for thought, and fuel for a blog post!)

    “What are the necessary digital and/or library components of an liberal arts university of the 21st century?”

    I’m not sure that a specific digital or library component is necessary. More important, in my opinion, is having library and IT offices (and academic departments in general) that are open to trying out new things, experimenting, and providing spaces for faculty, staff, and students to do the same. Too often I hear stories from colleagues about how they can’t use a particular tool or service because their university’s IT office can’t–or won’t–support it, install it, etc. This may be a particularly significant issue at smaller universities, where IT departments are smaller and perhaps not equipped enough to deal with changing needs of educators using technology. But it seems to me this has to be resolved before talking about specific digital components, and should be part of the strategic plan (if it isn’t already).

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  4. Jeff, I’m still planning to respond with something a bit more thoughtful, but I just ran across this today and wanted to make sure it was in your collective quiver:

    CLIR’s report: No Brief Candle: Reconceiving Research Libraries for the 21st Century

  5. Obama nominated Martha Kanter for Under Secretary of Education and I wondered what she might have to offer. Reviewing the Technology Strategic Plan for 2005, explains a lot. FHDA is a 2 yr college.

  6. Thanks for all the thoughtful responses. Check out the newest post to see what we came up with….

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